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UK Meal Card Scheme

Volume 742: debated on Monday 18 December 2023

The petition of residents of the constituency of Linlithgow and East Falkirk,

Declares that the UK remains in the grip of a worsening cost of living crisis, with inflation causing significant pressure on household food budgets; further that there is a need to support companies who are struggling to find workers and to support individuals to find and sustain work, to bolster the UK’s labour market and boost economic growth, and notes that innovation is needed to tackle the challenges we face.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to follow the lead of 35 other nations around the world and examine the introduction of a UK meal card scheme to provide a tax-free allowance for employees to spend on ready-to-eat food and non-alcoholic beverages, implemented by updating HMRC’s existing tax exemptions list for employee benefits and expenses, with a graduated tax treatment to ensure that support is targeted at those on the lowest incomes.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Martyn Day, Official Report, 21 November 2023; Vol. 741, c. 291.]


Observations from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Nigel Huddleston):

There are a wide range of factors to consider when introducing new tax reliefs into the system. It is important to consider the value for money of any new reliefs. The proposed scheme would not provide any support to those who may be in most need: namely, low-earning individuals with income below the personal allowance who would receive no tax relief at all. Much of the cost of the policy would go towards providing tax relief to employees who already purchase meals, achieving little change. Moreover, new reliefs add complexity to the tax system and are likely to result in similar calls for reliefs on other forms of personal expenditure.

It is unlikely therefore that these proposals would constitute good value for money. The Government keep all aspects of the tax system under review and any decisions on future changes will be taken in the context of the wider public finances. More broadly, the Government are committed to helping people with the cost of living. The Government will raise local housing allowance rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents in April 2024. The Government will also uprate all working age benefits in full, by the September 2023 CPI of 6.7%, for 2024-25. This comes on top of cost of living payments this year, helping more than 8 million UK households on eligible means-tested benefits, 8 million pensioner households and 6 million people across the UK on eligible disability benefits. This brings the total support over 2022-23 to 2024-25 to help households with the high cost of living to £104 billion—an average of £3,700 per UK household.

The Government are also committed to supporting the labour market to help people into work where they are able. At spring Budget 2023, the Government announced an ambitious package of reforms to boost labour supply, which the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast would result in an additional 110,000 individuals in the workforce by the end of the forecast period. At autumn statement 2023, the Chancellor built on the package announced at spring Budget to support a further 50,000 people into employment by 2028-29 and deliver the Government’s key objectives to increase growth, control spending, manage inflation and boost productivity.